Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Born into a working class family, we survived week to week. I decided at a young age that wasn’t the way I wanted to live.
My drive to earn and take control of my own destiny started at 12 years of age when I had my first paper round and milk and cheese run - from then on my work ethic was a part of me. I realised that no one was going knock on my door with opportunities, I had to go out and get them!
What was your career like before SmartPA?
My career started in privately owned SME businesses, giving me an experience of being in a organisation where I felt valued, had autonomy and could see the results of my hard work. I was lucky as the organisations I worked in had a supportive, winning and sharing culture - I didn’t know it at the time but these cultures really inspired me, especially when it came to starting SmartPA.
The corporate world seemed a distant place however I knew it was somewhere I had to experience, so that was where I set my sights. I worked my way up to become a Project Manager at RBS and learned a lot about the inner workings of a global organisation. I also worked hard in my spare time to earn my qualification in Corporate Training, an accolade I put to good use when it came to designing our in-house SmartPA training! I’m definitely one of those people who wants to keep growing stronger. We always advise our Partners about the importance of a growth mindset and we do that because it is vital - I can attribute a lot of my successes to always being open to growth.
How did SmartPA begin?
I was the first SmartPA. My vision was to create a PA service focussed not on what we did, but how we did it. To change the way the PA sector was perceived, experienced and valued.
I set up from my own home, utilizing my own network and project management skills to create the business model. Starting from a blank sheet of paper was incredibly hard work but because I always wanted my own business, I kept soldiering on. Eventually I had built a compact but well run business - I had around 4 members of staff whom I had trained and supported personally. I was beyond proud of what I had built but knew I would need to seek some guidance if I wanted to take my business to the next level.
What was your lightbulb moment?
When I met Andrew, our CEO, and he suggested the idea of a Partnership across the country, that lightbulb flashed above my head. I had been seeking a mentor to help grow the business and Andrew had plenty of experience in growing and managing massive global companies. He loved the concept and the team and originally trialled the service for his own business. When he suggested changing the model to a Partnership one, I was in. It was great to have him on board and between us we had all the experience necessary to build something amazing. A lot of people ask if I minded someone new to the company changing my direction completely, but again - I was totally open to change.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to potential business owners?
Even the biggest, most successful titans of industry don’t know everything - they are open to help, advice and knowledgeable experts. You have to be aware of your own knowledge gaps and embrace those who can fill them. It was a growth mindset that got SmartPA to where it is now, so I always encourage our Partners to think the same. There is no harm or shame in admitting that you might be a little out of your depth or don’t know where to start. Nobody knows everything at the start. If I can do it, why can’t they?
It is also incredibly important to not become your business. Your business is a entity, you are not solely the business. A lot of start-ups fall into this trap: the sign of a robust business is one that can operate without the owner. This will also help you be able to take time out to re-energise and top up your motivation levels to enable you to keep driving forward - otherwise you will simply burn out.
What makes SmartPA different?
For starters, our culture and values are at the core of everything we do. SmartPA are about empowering people to reach their own success, rather than spoon feeding them to contribute to ours. Also, our SmartPA method, which has been ingrained into the company since I started it, is an in-house ‘secret sauce’ which means our Partners are trained to an industry-leading standard and we’re very proud of each and every one of them. Without our community, we couldn’t have reached the heights we have.
How has the remote PA market changed since you began?
When I started the company, remote workers were virtually unheard of. In the last 10 years alone the rise in flexible, agile and remote working has been huge and so has the competition. With that comes positives and challenges: nowadays it is a much easier model to explain to clients, whereas when I started it was a very tough battle to even convince someone that their PA didn’t need to be glued to their side in the office. That being said, with more competition there is higher client expectation and more pressure to deliver a phenomenal service. Thankfully, our Head Office team make sure we are always at the forefront of the industry.
What was the best moment of your career so far?
An amazing moment I remember was when a prospective client phoned in, I answered the call and he said the words ‘I’ve seen what you do and I NEED a SmartPA’. I was beyond delighted - that someone recognised our quality immediately was amazing - I imagine it was how the owners of Google felt the first time someone said the phrase ‘Google it’. It proved to me that we had really hit on something amazing here and that our brand was pushing its way to the front of the market. It was a huge milestone.